Archive | May, 2017

Food issues

I don’t think of myself as high maintenance, but rather mildly OCD. I like straight corners and tidy piles. And I like to know where my next meal is coming from.

I have often wondered where my obsession over future meals originated. I have pinpointed two reasons for this. First, I have two older brothers and growing up, we were always racing to the bottom…of the bowl. If I didn’t grab that extra slice of pizza, it would end up in John’s belly, not on my plate. When we had popsicles in the house, I would squirrel away one or two in the downstairs freezer, the one where Mom put up all her veggies for the winter in airtight plastic containers. I thought the white-sheathed popsicles would fade into the whiteness of the freezer but damn if my brothers didn’t ferret them out without comment.

When my parents split up when I was 12, groceries duties fell by the wayside and the cupboards became bare, except for an errant tube of barley soup starter that Dad liked to use.

But that was decades ago and I still eat my food too fast and while swallowing the last bite of my lunch, I’m already forecasting a dinner plan. As a privileged American, this is not usually a problem. Food is abundant, from stocked supermarkets to tasty takeout to fine dining.

The Cook Islands are another story. Located in the South Pacific (look at a globe, find Hawaii, and then trace a line south past the equator), it’s a popular vacation spot for New Zealanders. My partner Carl and I are on our second vacation on Aitutaki, the most beautiful of the islands, due to the large jaw-dropping lagoon that encircles it. For each trip, we have checked a bag full of food staples: microwavable rice packets, oatmeal, peanut butter, crackers, chocolate, olive oil, mayonnaise, tea and coffee, non-dairy creamer, gin, spices… This seems excessive but the “grocery stores” here are more like corner bodegas with erratic and limited supplies of fresh produce. One day you’ll nab a head of lettuce and that’s it: there’s nothing else to put in your salad. On our first trip, I bought a snack pack of nuts at the store, chopped them up, and sprinkled them on top of the greens. I thought I was a culinary wizard.

Initially, this scarcity of produce caused me agita. But I have learned to embrace the challenge of putting together a meal with limited ingredients, rather than dining at one of the few restaurants on the island. It’s basically a daily Top Chef challenge. Carl has gone deep-sea fishing a couple of times, bringing home a plastic bag of fresh tuna. We’ve grilled it simply, we marinated it in teriyaki sauce, and in the height of indulgence, Carl grilled the rest up and made the best tuna salad ever.

I scored some tomatoes and basil from Tauono’s, a garden market and café on the island owned by Sonja, an Austrian woman. There’s little to no dairy on Aitutaki because all the foodstuffs come over on container ships and dairy wouldn’t fare well. There are a few goats tied to palm trees but otherwise the only livestock on the island are pigs and free-range chickens who roam the beaches and cockadoodledoo all hours of the day and night. Anyway, I sliced those tomatoes, chopped some basil, drizzled olive oil and balsamic over the plate, sprinkled Italian seasoning, and had the healthiest “Caprese” salad in a 2,000-mile radius. Who needs fresh mozzarella?

Black Jack, the captain who takes Carl fishing, gave him a haunch of pork, hoof still attached. We popped it in the oven and roasted it low and slow, hoof poking out of the roasting pan. When that was done, Carl shredded it and made pulled pork. I took an eggplant I found at Sonja’s, diced it in large chunks and roasted it in a bit of the pork drippings. I diced a starfruit, added lime, red onion, and salt to make an island salsa. There was a milestone birthday celebration going on down the beach but the real party that night was in my mouth.

I feel like a French woman, letting the day’s offerings (as limited as they may be here) dictate the meal. But actually, maybe I’m just becoming an islander. I’m off to the store to see if I can get a red pepper (called capsicum here) before they run out. Maybe I can roast that with another eggplant tonight. I’m already thinking about dinner and it’s not even lunchtime yet. But at least I’m not panicked about it.

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Dispatches from an unwilling wild woman: Going feral under protest

I forgot my tweezers.

This sounds like a minor to non-existent problem. But if you know me at all, you’ll get why this is causing me no small measure of agita.

Originally used to pluck a stray eyebrow, my Tweezermans have become a trusted partner in my fight against whiskers, nose hair, and middle age. As I march toward 50, my body is starting to betray me. It’s particularly painful because it’s been so good to me for decades—only a few gray hairs poke out through my brunette dye job. My skin, thanks to hats, sunscreen, meticulous skincare, and some strange deal with the devil I’m unaware of, takes a decade off my appearance. My body is pretty much the same shape, give or take 15 pounds, that it’s been since my 20s.

But I’ve been waging a daily war against facial hair in all forms for quite some time. I’ll be washing my face in the shower when I feel the beginnings of a stiff chin whisker. In front of a steamy mirror, I hunt and peck until I gain purchase with the slanted point of my tweezers. Muttering to myself like Jack to Rose as he freezes in the mid-Atlantic, “never let go, never let go.” If I lose my hold on the whisker nubbin or break it off, it will take another day or two to pinpoint it between my tweezers.

I don’t have crazy nose hair but over time, tiny black strands have started to creep out like sentient beings looking for escape from my dim nasal cave. Those are a bitch to pluck, but at least I can see them.

The biggest problem these days, however, is my mustache. I’ve never really had to bleach or wax my lip because the hair was light and sparse. Not so much any more. Darker hairs have sprouted among the light fur that is coming in fast and making me furious. I do a daily check, tweezers in hand, to ferret out the biggest offenders. About once a week, I try to take out a lot of the lighter peach fuzz so I don’t look like a 13-year-old boy trying to grow his first ’stache. I stopped waxing a while back because I got a red rash and little white bumps all along my upper lip after the hair was ripped off my face. With my tweezers, I can control my pain and the aftermath.

This brings us to now. I’m on a four-week workcation with my bushy eyebrowed partner (another reason for the tweezers) on a remote island in the South Pacific. A week in, a screw came out, dislodging one of the temples on my prescription sunglasses. After panicking for a day, I put a paper clip through the tiny holes and temporarily fixed the problem. But I haven’t been able to find a lifehack for the tweezers.

I’ve thought around the problem, trying to Macgyver something. My partner pulls at his stray eyebrows like someone afflicted with trichotillomania. Nothing found in nature will dislodge my hair, however. None of the kitchen utensils are delicate enough to do the job. I wondered if the clip on my pen could clamp down on the biggest offenders but the angles are all wrong. Maybe nail clippers could mow down my mustache.

We joke that we’re going feral, but secretly I don’t find it that funny. I find it slightly mortifying. I embrace the wild woman within me, but don’t want to look like a savage on the surface. I planned on letting my hair go on the trip, knowing a color and cut would get trashed by the sun and watersports, and scheduled an appointment for the week I return home. I stopped wearing makeup here except for a little CC cream with SPF on my cheeks because everything just slides off in the humidity. But the hoary hairy signposts on my face suggest not acceptance of aging, but of a surrender. Vacation is a time for relaxing so I guess that means relaxing my beauty standards and giving myself over to the experience. But I’m not ready to wave the white flag just yet.